Humble Imposition

Many women rebel against the idea that they are obligated to carry and birth a child they have conceived. Witness the current pro-abortion twitter fad on this subject: an embryo is an invader which we are justified in killing in self defense; violent retaliation is a right; no government nor man has the right to force birth upon a woman.

I’ve given birth several times so I won’t surprise you by saying that I think that line of reasoning is childish and frightening.

But whence comes this trouble, these heavy trials women must endure? Why in particular is childbirth such a horror?  I have borne several babies and I say this: we should never minimize carrying nor bearing a child.

If we go back to its troublesome origin, we must go all the way back to Eden and the fall of mankind. In Masaccio’s fresco on this subject, Adam and Eve have been ousted from paradise and thrust into a troubled world in which they must struggle and suffer. That they understand their own culpability does not lessen their grief.

Look at their faces. They are heartbroken and incredulous that their perfect, intimate relationship with their Creator is now estranged. They seem cast outside of their Father’s bosom like a child thrown on the streets.

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Yet their estrangement was not rejection. The seeds of redemption were within the bodies of the ones cast out of Eden. There would be total restoration; the Savior of mankind would come from their progeny’s bodies, and He would crush the devil who hated them and their God. That blessing was an expression of fatherly love.

The catch was that they would have to strive and suffer and work, and die before they would see the restoration. Adam would work himself to death in providing sustenance for his family. Eve would bear children in anguish and pain.

A simple story. It’s true and glorious. Notice this: it really is a burden to carry a child.

Every pregnant woman feels it if only for a few minutes: the shock that you will have no choice but to go through childbirth. It’s something that will happen to you, like it or not. There is panic for a moment.

So I understand that impulse to draw back from the huge burden of carrying another person, from going through childbirth in order to bring her into the world.

It really is humbling to be burdened with the responsibility of another’s life. You watch helplessly as your body goes through an incredible transformation and some of the changes are unwelcome. Childbirth is sublime but also as gritty as it gets.

It’s the first signal that your life is no longer your own. Your whole being will be stretched so far out of shape that you will never spring back to your old normal. Your life has changed. Your priorities are upside down. Your center is no longer you.

But isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t becoming an adult essentially the acceptance of the responsibility to put others before oneself? Philosophically and practically, when we take on the well-being of dependents, we have become actualized people.

As most women throughout human history have learned, the burden is worth bearing. The result is lasting joy and the pain is all but forgotten.

It is sad that there are so many women ready to agitate for the idea that any burden thrust upon them, no matter how tiny and defenseless the nature of the imposer, is too outrageous for them to be expected to bear. That we may not expect a woman to sacrifice one iota for another, no matter that that other was meant to be her particular and precious responsibility to nurture.

The imposition is the most weighty there is; the bearing is as close as we get to mortality even as we give life. Such a burden could only be a privilege. It is a gift not to be refused.

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